Case study

Think, Act, Report: Carillion

Changing and improving to retain and develop female talent


Over the last decade, Carillion has developed and changed as an organisation, as we have built on our construction heritage and significantly grown our support services. We also recognised that we needed to develop and change our culture – significantly shaped by our history – to support women more effectively throughout all the key stages of their working lives. A significant step was to set a strategic objective as part of our 2020 sustainability goals that our ‘leadership population should reflect the diversity of the people it leads’.

We firmly believe that better gender diversity is fundamental to a better business, increases profitability and inspires our people. Improving the gender diversity of our leadership will help to grow and inspire the next generation of leaders, which is why Carillion are committed to developing strong, positive role models to achieve that.

Changes and improvements made have increased the numbers of women in leadership and operational roles, while the retention rate for maternity returners has increased by a significant 20%.

Issue to be resolved

In 2012 we found that 45% of our senior women left within 18 weeks of returning from maternity leave, whilst 65% of all working mums said they wanted to progress their career but only 20% were allowed to work flexibly to support that. We struggled to retain and convert our female talent pipeline into more senior appointments, as well as attracting new female leaders into the company; this presented a significant barrier to achieving our diversity objective and to supporting our people.

Action taken

To take action, we focused on a number of areas:

Improving maternity provisions

To put Carillion ahead of the national average and into the upper quartile of organisations in its sector, we introduced a policy of 12 weeks full and 6 weeks half pay for all women (previously only 6 weeks full pay).

Enhancing support in the workplace

We improved our flexible and agile working policy to support a better work/ life balance. This included homeworking, parental leave, greater part-time working, special leave and time off for dependent care.

Our leadership development programmes were enhanced to focus more deliberately on growing our female talent pool to fill senior management positions.

We upskilled our line managers and introduced unconscious bias training.


These policy changes have helped us to improve gender diversity through increases in:

  • Females in leadership roles from 17% to 21%.
  • Females in operational roles from 20% to 26%.
  • Maternity returner retention from 76% to 96%.

In a recent internal survey of working mums, 84% of them would recommend Carillion to others and 82% felt that we were making positive changes to enable a supportive working environment.

The impact extends much further than to our existing female population. In a recent graduate recruitment review, our approach to working families and flexible working was cited as a source of positive attraction for new graduates into our business.

Next Steps

We know our strategy is working through the progress we’ve seen to date, and we will continue to pursue our 2020 target of 30% women in leadership positions. We are now extending our networks to introduce LGBT and Working Dads Networks, and we will work closely with clients, suppliers and external organisations to help others support women more effectively.

Published 23 May 2016